I have a really fantastic Facebook group where I share all of my travels. It’s kind of like me and almost 500 of my closest friends. (Stacy Barnett’s EPIC Nosework Travels). I started the group last year when I did my first cross country road trip. My friends have been an enormous source of company for me on the road. This blog is really intended to document my experience at the recent Summit Trial in Kennebunkport, Maine. I feel like I need to put everything on “paper”… well at least written down! Bare with me as I think this will be a bit lengthy! I think I’m finally recovered emotionally from the experience. (This is a little bit more of a diary entry than a blog!)

Judd always thought that the best ribbon pictures were the kind when you held the ribbon yourself!

Summit League Trials are 2 day trials that are an intense showcase of the top tilting teams in the country. First draw for entry include dogs with an Elite Champion. Second draw (if space) includes dogs with the Elite 3 title. Judd has been an Elite Champion since October 2017. To earn a title, you have to score in the top 20% of teams cumulatively over the two days. Typically there are 8+ searches. The searches are more complex than Elite, Often they are bigger with more challenging hides. Often then have far less odor requiring your dog to maintain motivation and drive. Overall they are TOUGH. TRULY TOUGH.

Judd came into the trial with one SMT title (earned in September of 2018) and a very, VERY narrow miss for a second title. He was also coming in as an aging dog who can get a bit wobbly at times. I admit to being a little worried that the weekend might prove to be too much for him. This was a test. Did he still have it?

I rented an adorable Airbnb in town and decided to only bring Judd and Brava with me. We arrived and took a lovely walk around the neighborhood.

Two of the most incredible Labradors every to grace this world! (Judd on left, Brava on right)

Day 1: April 13, 2019

We arrived at the Seashore Trolley Museum the next day for the start of the two day trial. Wendy Krehbiel was the Certifying Official. Many of the walkthroughs for the searches were posted on the NACSW Virtual Walkthrough Facebook Page so we had a preview, and then toured the remaining remaining searches in person.

In Summit, there is no room for mistakes. If you make mistakes you will not title, plain and simple. We did title that weekend, but it was close. I made 2 mistakes all weekend and both occurred on the first morning. My mistakes ultimately cost me 7.5 points and I was feeling the impact at the end of the first day. (Each hide in Summit is worth 5 points. Both “No’s” and Time Outs results in the loss of 2.5 points respectively.)

Our morning started with the Highwood Search. The search involved an indoor barn of back to back trolleys, 2 long aisles worth! We were given 6:00 with a range of 1 to 4 hides. We were #25 on the run order (out of 25 dogs). Judd missed the threshold hide on trash can but quickly got into odor on the #62 maroon trolley car. He was giving me deep inaccessible behavior, ducking and reaching under the trolley. I wasn’t sure at that point if the hide was a deep inaccessible or an accessible blowing from the other side. I noted the color of the car and told myself that I would check it on the other aisle. As we came around the back wall, Judd became interested in a green trolley, actually climbing up the steps! (It was tough getting him back down!) I mistakenly thought that he was doing this for target odor. Again, I noted it and moved on. We arrived at the maroon car only to realize that in fact the hide WAS inaccessible and that I needed to get back to the other side. We hurried to the other side and Judd gave me inaccessible behavior again. This time I called it and received my first “Yes”. Unfortunately, I decided to make my way back to the green trolley where I received my first (and only) “No” of the weekend in a rash attempt at picking up a hide. After the “No” I called Finish. I ended up with only 2.5 points for the search. I didn’t feel like we got a great start to the weekend, but there were still 7 searches to go!

Our second search of the morning was the Back Field Search, 5:00 unknown number of hides. The search consisted of 3 buses, a tractor, and a field. I started to the right of the start line in order to work the buses first. I don’t think Judd was into the swing of the trial yet. He was definitely interested in the ground hogs and rabbits that were apparently living under the buses! In fact he was so into crittering that I had to resort to directed searching. Finally I saw a Change of Behavior on the front bumper of the first bus, yay! A hide! After receiving that “Yes” I felt better although Judd was still distracted. More directed searching and we found a second hide on the bumper of the third bus. Phew! I decided to cover the rest of the field. In a tall grassy clump, his interest grew. I mistook it for critters and pulled him off of the third hide. That was my other mistake for the weekend. So we received 10 points for the search. At this point I knew I needed to get (REALLY) focused.

Things started to improve a bit in the afternoon. We were slated to work 2 searches with shorter times and they looked really fun!

The Riverside Search allowed for 3:00 and unknown number of hides. The search area was in a barn an included the outside of a couple of trolleys and the inside of one! There were two hides. We got both although I’m drawing a bit of a blank in terms of the exact location of the one near the front of one of the outside of the trolleys. I just know we got it. Judd immediately got into odor inside the trolley where we were to search. We found it and called Finish, earning all 10 possible points in the search.

The next search was a blast. I have never searched the insides of buses before and we had two to search! the Transit Search (included two rather than three buses – Bus 6169 was excluded). We were given 3:30 and told we had 4 hides to find across the 2 buses. Time didn’t stop when we changed buses. I knew we would not have time to go back, so the buses had to be cleared as we went. Judd entered Bus 333 and quickly sourced a threshold hide. Interestingly, he continued to search in the very near immediate area which clued me into converging odor. He sourced the second hide. It was only 18 inches from the first! This is the closest I’ve seen hides in competition to date. I think I might have said something like “Hot Damn!” when we were searching! If I didn’t say it, I was sure thinking it! After clearing the first bus, we moved to the second where we sourced another threshold hide. Judd gave me a Change of Behavior towards the back of the bus but didn’t work it through, missing the 4th hide which was an elevated hide. But we finished the search 15 points better than when we started!

At the end of the day I had 37.5 points. I left the day feeling a little low. The hard part was knowing how many hides I left (found 8/12 with one No) and knowing that I was tracking at a lot fewer hides than I did after the first day of both of Judd’s previous Summits. It had been a rough day and I have to say that the social tension at these events isn’t fun. Luckily I had a friend I could park next to and spend time with during the trial. That certainly was a help!

The museum arranged for an incredible Trolley ride for the volunteers and competitors! It was a super way to relieve a little trial anxiety!

The Seashore Trolley Museum is home to the largest collection of trolleys, trams and buses in the world! We got a chance to ride this beautiful restored car.
Hide Sheet from Day 1

Day 2: April 14, 2019

The next morning we arrived on time. Of course any of you who go to NACSW Trials know that “on time” means “later than everyone else”! LOL. I got Judd out to go to the bathroom. He had a little bit of an upset stomach the day before, probably from nerves, and he seemed to be feeling the same way. This morning we were to be #7 in the run order. Lucky 7 right?

The morning for us started with the Restoration Search. This search allowed for 6:30 with a range of 1-4 hides. It had several “levels”. Each level included different enticing things to search, connected by a bit of road. From the start line, we went left and found a hide between the dually wheels of a flatbed trailer. Heading across the way, we searched a utility truck and tractor. We missed a somewhat suspended hide that was hanging off a hook on the utility truck. When we came back to this part of the search area, Judd gave me a head sweep up the side of the truck so I knew we left one behind. It just wasn’t enough to call. In the next “section”, we found another tractor and a bus. Again, no Changes of Behavior although I found out later that there was a hide on the top of the bus. So, out of the 3 elevated hides in the trial, we were 0/3… which is unusual for Judd… granted he had COB’s for two of them and they were all difficult! From the bus, we went up the road a bit catching no odor. On the way back down we searched the edge of the road. I noticed a little metal plate pushed into the mud. I asked Judd to sweep back up. Bam! A Hide! On our score sheet, the judge remarked that we were the first team to get the Plate Hide! Yay! Apparently most teams used the roads as thoroughfares rather than search areas. So 10 points for us!

We then got to do the most fun search (for us) of the weekend. Usually in Summit Trials, one of the searches has a “twist” which allows for potential bonus points. In the Exhibition Search, we were told that there were 3 hides and were given 3:00. The Exhibition area was a decent sized indoor area. The “twist” turned out to be really fun! We were told that for every hide that we called, while our feet were inside the start box, we would get double points! I left the briefing that morning with a smile, known my boy was made for this challenge! To date, we had not ever earned a single bonus point in a trial. This was thrilling! We were the last team to run this search. I released Judd at the start line. He quickly found the first hide. When I called “Alert”, the look he gave me was priceless! “Where are you Mom?” I opted to call him back to me for his reward so that my body motion didn’t pull him back when he was trying to find the next hide. He found all three! On the third hide, I ALMOST made a mistake! I was about to call Alert and looked down and noticed my feet were over the line. Whew! Glad I saw that! Leaving the search knowing we just earned 30 points was a relief! Maybe we could do this thing!

We were able to squeeze in our third search of the day prior to lunchtime. Our third search was the Entrance Search, cleverly named because it was well, near the museum entrance! We had 2:30 to find an unknown number of hides. This search required us to drive to the search area. In the car I listened to Judd’s song, “Bringing It Home” by Big SMO. It helped to center me a bit. We got out, still feeling a few butterflies. Right off the bat, he finds the first hide in a ground apparatus near the tractor. We steadily moved to the back of the search area knowing we were short on time. We find a second hide on the small metal railroad car. With just a little time left we made our way back towards the front of the search area and call Finish in time to secure 10 points. I had not known but we left one hide on the tractor that only one team found.

So at this point I have 87.5 points and I’m feeling pretty low. In my first Summit Trial I earned 102.5 points putting me in 5th place (there were 4 titles). In my second Summit Trial we titled, Third Overall, with 105 points. At this point of my Maine trip, I didn’t think there was hope. I knew I had to find another 3 hides to break 100. I was hoping that that was going to be a possibility going in to the last search.

The last search was the Patio Search. We were given 3:00 and told that we had an unknown number of hides. Judd seemed to still have some energy going in. He quickly swept the area but… nothing. I started to panic a little. Negative thoughts started to creep in. He briefly gave me a head sweep up the flag pole (apparently a lot of dogs falsed up the poles, so he was smelling dogs). But then… nothing. A 2:58.2 I called “Finish”. I was sad. I thought that maybe Judd was getting too old and maybe it was time to stop. I tried not to let him know my feelings and fed him plenty of cookies on the way back to the car. I just didn’t think 87.5 points was going to be enough! You see, the issue isn’t competition… the issue for me was a painful slap across the face that my boy, my heart and soul, was aging. He is such a huge part of me that that reality just can’t … BE. He is my everything.

I hung out in my car, quiet, for quite some time. Eventually all of the teams finished and it was time to go to the Awards Ceremony. Wendy walks up and posts the hide sheet for the day. The Patio search was a Blank Area. That’s right… no odor. The reality hit me that correctly calling a Blank Area is worth 5 points. That’s right! That pushed us to 92.5 points for the weekend! I still didn’t think it was enough but I did feel much better.

Hide Sheet from Day 2

The Award’s Ceremony goes on… I receive no Search Placements. I wasn’t surprised though. We were rather slow and I pushed the clock on several searches. I do self-time and it comes in rather helpful in this type of trial!

Then come the title ribbons…..

WE DID IT. 92.5 points with a search time of just over 30 minutes total for the weekend. WE DID IT.

Looking back of course, the 7.5 points I gave up on the first day was a huge hit. We weren’t that far off from the top 3. But in this level, every mistake is costly, You just CAN’T make them. I made two mistakes. They were costly… but I at least only made 2 “mistakes”. One hide that I pulled Judd off of and one “No”. In our last Summit trial, I didn’t make mistakes. (I didn’t find all of the hides of course, but I mean I had No No’s all weekend and didn’t make any egregious mistakes.). So this time was a close call!

So Judd earned his SMTx2. It was emotional and HARD.

Thank you to Cornelia for taking this wonderful photo of my with my boy!

Summit League trials are kind of like no other type of experience. They are meant to replace National Invitational trials to some extent. I don’t know. When Judd and I competed at the 2017 National Invitational, I don’t think we were truly ready mentally. I think we are now for this type of competition… but I still think it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It has taken me all week to recuperate emotionally and mentally. In the end, I got to hang another ribbon on the wall. I don’t like that I had to “beat” other teams that I like and respect so much, but I guess that is competition. The important thing is that we realize that it is the heart of a truly great dog that allows us to partake in this experience. This is about them, not us.

We are allowed one more Summit this year! (Teams are restricted to 2 a year). And you know what? It seems the boy still has it!

Thanks for reading… I really just needed a place to get this all out… and a HUGE Congrats to all of the teams competing… what an experience!

Happy Sniffing!